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Veterinary care for a farm dog


Farmer Joe Stanley debates access to veterinary care for his dog

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What can help your approach

  • If as a large animal vet you are regularly examining and treating farm dogs, consider attending relevant small animal CPD to stay up to date. If it’s best for them to be seen at a small animal clinic, say so.

  • It is a requirement of some assurance schemes, including Red Tractor, that farm dogs ‘are wormed regularly’. Ensure the protocol completely protects them as well as any livestock; check Angiostrongylus vasorum, flea and tick cover are included.

  • Don’t make assumptions about what farmers will be willing to spend on their dogs, or what conditions they will be willing to treat. Give them all of the options.

  • Consider as a practice whether you could develop a specific health plan package for farm dogs to include an annual check-up, vaccines and a comprehensive parasiticide protocol.

There is a well-known adage that a dog is a man’s best friend. There are few cases where this is more apt than on countless farms across the country. Farm dogs are unusually lucky with their lot in life. Unlike many pets who find themselves alone for much of the day, farm dogs enjoy the luxury of working with their owners. In this, they provide a vital service to their masters: constant companionship.

Modern agriculture can be a very lonely profession. With staffing levels at historic lows, many farmers and farm staff can spend whole days where they might not interact with another person. Dogs have an essential role to play as morale officers, and can help to lighten the psychological burden by acting as a constant source of light relief and friendship. This can be essential in a profession with historically concerning levels of mental health issues resulting from isolation, long working hours, low profitability and frequent media opprobrium. Because of this bond we can also rapidly detect changes in their health.

The interaction between farmer, dog and vet can be a testing experience for all involved, not least the vet

The interaction between farmer, dog and vet can be a testing experience for all involved, not least the vet. Farmers tend to be, by nature, rather direct. Stock farmers have wide experience in dealing with the health and wellbeing of hundreds, perhaps thousands of animals at a time. Vet visits to such farms tend to be frequent and most vets are well known to their customers. Most farm stock, although professionally cared for and valued, are ultimately recognised as commodity units to which there is no substantial emotional attachment. Naturally, our pets are a different proposition.

The farmer’s familiarity with the large animal vet can lead to difficulties. From the farmer’s perspective, if there are questions to be asked about their dog, the visit of a vet is the perfect opportunity to raise them. The vet is already charging to be there, so why not kill two birds with one stone? What most farmers don’t realise is that large animal practitioners might not regularly be doing small animal work or updating their relevant knowledge and may actually be put into an awkward position of having to pass judgement on a pet or give a prognosis about which they aren’t entirely confident.

The farmer’s reaction to being informed they might need to take their dog to a dedicated small animal practice can be predicated on two factors – the time involved in travel and the long wait among the cages of rabbits and rats (no doubt being eyed up by the working dog), but primarily, cost. Farmers are conscious that they seem to pay a very large premium for what might be termed ‘retail’ veterinary care on the high street when they are used to the ‘wholesale’ care they experience on-farm, where the cost of blood-testing an entire herd of cattle might be the same as a 10 minute consultation for a sick pet.

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Furthermore, this premium price might seem to be visibly funding vast new veterinary pet hospitals encompassing everything from grooming to hydrotherapy. Such sums can no doubt be attached to pet treatments because they are largely offset by pet insurance schemes – which few farmers subscribe to, leading to inevitably large bills, frayed tempers and a resolution to deal with future matters on-farm.

As a result, one can end up with faintly ludicrous situations; we’ve had cattle pregnancy scanning equipment being used on a small Jack Russell. Happily for her, the rather sizeable ultrasound wand was rubbed on her belly and not inserted in the normal fashion).

A final adage on dogs I’ve heard is that they have no vices – except their lives are too short. The more effectively farmers and vets can work together, the better.

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